Why Bucharest’s fire tragedy is also a matter of EU fire safety standards

Nov 12, 2015 | News

The death toll keeps rising in Bucharest

The fire which destroyed the Colectiv nightclub on October 30th has so far taken 53 lives, and dozens are still hospitalised in critical conditions. In recent days, more than 20 of these were transported for treatment to Belgium, Britain, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Norway and Israel, the Romanian Health Ministry reported. Several died during the transfer.

Meanwhile, more Romanian nightclubs admitted they had failed to meet minimum fire safety requirements and announced permanent or temporary closure. A club in Brasov promised to replace the acoustic insulation similar to the material that caught fire at Colectiv, to install sprinklers and to bring its venue up to fire safety standards.

Fire safety standards: were does the EU stand?

Fire safety regulations and standards for buildings and construction products in the EU have failed to keep pace with the innovations that regularly revolutionize the industry. The harmonised European fire testing standards introduced in 2002 was developed on the basis of the experience with traditional construction products. However, since the development phase, it was clear that those tests had problems showing the risk of modern construction products.

Fire tests are key. We need them to reflect real-life scenarios to make sure we design fire safe buildings. We need to know the flammability of each construction product to allow architects and engineers to make informed decision on the materials to use, and to avoid highly combustible materials to end up on the surface in a concert venue – or a school, or a hospital. This is why we need to test every product as if directly exposed to fire.

Of course, implementation matters too. Bucharest’s fire tragedy was a lot about corruption and poor enforcement of fire safety standards. However, a safer building design based on realistic fire tests could have helped to contain the blaze and could have allowed more people to escape.

What happens in Romania doesn’t stay in Romania

Tullia Ciotola and Ayberk Mancı were both 20 years old. So were their Romanian and international friends, who were enjoying with them a concert at Bucharest’s Colectiv nightclub on October 30th. Tullia was Italian, Ayberk was Turkish. They both lived in Bucharest as Erasmus exchange students. They both died in a fire tragedy that could have been avoided.

This is why fire safety in buildings is not only a matter of this or that country. Romanians are European citizens, and so are most of the 2000 or so youths moving to Romania every year within the Erasmus+ programme for education, training and sport exchanges. Moreover, this figure, shared by the Erasmus Student Network Romania, does not take into account all those EU citizens who are working, studying, volunteering or travelling within the country independently of the European youth mobility programme.

Shouldn’t it be a EU responsibility to ensure that all member states strive for a common level of fire safety in buildings to safeguard the daily security of all European citizens, no matter where they are?